One could well make the case that Sarah Palin’s moment has passed. Whether it is fair or not, she has become a national punchline. And maybe her critics were right — maybe she doesn’t possess the gravitas to be president. Were conservatives so hungry for a national voice that they would have anointed anyone to John McCain’s right ‘the future of the Republican Party?’ Certainly it takes more than charm, radiance, a thin resume and a propensity for enraging the left to continue Ronald Reagan’s legacy.
She finished fourth at CPAC in a presidential straw poll behind Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal and Ron Paul. Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is generating buzz among conservatives as the rising star to watch (Is it just me, or does a Palin/Jindal or Palin/Ryan ticket have a nice ring to it?). Meanwhile, some left-wingers giddily report John McCain’s forced, halfhearted endorsements of Palin for president. They signify little if anything, however, since expecting John McCain not to diss and backstab conservative Republicans is like expecting Sunday morning to precede Saturday night.
So, does Sarah Palin still matter? She will matter as much as she chooses to. Whether she runs for president in 2012 or 2016 or 2020 — or not at all, Sarah Palin matters. She stands with Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton in blazing the trail for the first woman president or vice-president. She is only the third woman in history to receive an electoral vote (Libertarian VP candidate Toni Nathan was the first in 1972) and she holds the record for the most — 173 to Ferraro’s 13.
She is, by nature, a participant and not a spectator. The enthusiasm she inspires (and the attention she draws) will make her a profitable fundraiser, speaker or advocate, either for energy independence, special-needs children or both. If the presidency is not in her future, she would certainly be a valued member of a future Republican administration.
She matters because the media culture continues to dismiss her as little more than tabloid fodder. Anyone defending Palin inevitably spends valuable air time, not promoting her conservative views and agenda but proving that she is not some featherhead who charmed her way into the governorship. She gracefully accepted John McCain’s bid to be his VP — and saw her own and her family’s reputations dragged through the mud. Sadly, the ugly rumors persist. No one can stop the media from loathing Palin, but we are morally bound to support those who advance our ideals, lest the next anti-elitist far from the Washington-New York-Ivy League corridor will shrug off a leadership opportunity with ‘Why bother?’ She certainly merits better than John McCain’s tepid, post-election support.
Finally, Sarah Palin matters because the true mark of leadership lies not in a gushing dissection of her many attributes but in what she inspires in those who follow her. She represents an independent, outdoorsy brand of conservatism reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt. But mostly, she is a modern-day exemplar of the all-American notion that ordinary citizens, far removed from the political class, can not only beat City Hall, they can run it. She is one of those rare political figures who never requires a ‘real person’ photo-op (“I’m John Kerry and I’d like a hunting license.”), whether stopping her campaign motorcade at a Walmart on a diaper run or firing an assault weapon with Alaskan troops in the Middle-East, Sarah Palin not only embodies authenticity, she defines it.
The scope of her influence, the number of hockey moms and Joe-Six Packs she inspires to public service, will not be known for some time. Certainly her 2008 candidacy will resonate long after John McCain’s tedious attempts at ‘bipartisan legislation’ have been forgotten. She has set a splendid example of public service and leadership, and her political life need not be over. Does Sarah Palin still matter? She and her supporters and not the mainstream media naysayers, will decide that.